A few days ago we were saved by the Prince, ate spaghetti cooked by the Queen and were served by, yes, you guessed it, – the Princess.
All of this happened in one evening on the tiny island of Tavolara, formerly known as the “smallest kingdom of Europe”. Here the Bertoleoni clan still rules. Well, at least they run the restaurant Da Tonino, which is named after the current “king” Tonino.
The story begins at noon in Tonino’s restaurant. A friendly man from Vancouver approaches me after noticing the Lululemon logo on my pants! His name is Alan and he keeps his little red sailboat over the winter in the same harbor we do. He and his German friend, Ute, are also anchored in the bay of Tavolara and plan to spend the night.
Around 6 p.m. Siegfried, Bill, the kids and I climb off our Sharki into the dinghy to motor to shore. We want to have a walk along the dunes to the small cemetery where King Paolo, Carlo I, la Reina Mariangela and all the other members of the royal family of Tavolara are buried. At 7 p.m. we have a dinner reservation at Da Tonino, one of the two restaurants right at the water by the docks. Strolling back to the restaurant along the beach we notice the Canadian’s boat The Ark Angel of Freedom awfully close to shore. He has his foresail up. Strange. Does he want to leave? This late in the evening? Ute is sitting on deck rocking the little red boat back and forth and Alan is in the water with his scuba mask on.
As we come closer it becomes obvious: They are grounded! The little Ark Angel is not floating free anymore. Her keel is stuck on some rocks that are submerged under water right off the sandy beach.
Siegfried, Bill and I get on board to help Ute rock the boat. With our body weight all to one side we attempt to heal the hull far enough over so the keel can come free. In that position, perhaps the vessel can be pushed past the rocks into deeper water. Unfortunately that doesn’t work, even once we try with the help of the motor. Meanwhile the sun has set and dusk is settling in quickly. Time is ticking. The Ark Angel has to be off the rock before darkness. What if more wind or waves rock her over on her side during the night? Water could come in. The rocks could crack a hole into the hull.
We think about what else we could try. Our dinghy? No, the motor is not strong enough. Poor Alan in the water is chilled and must feel anxious. Ideas are born and die again.
All of a sudden the deep sound of a big engine catches our attention: The heavy Bertoleoni fishing boat has left its dock in front of the restaurant and is motoring over. What a wonderful and welcome sight! We are all thrilled. It is coming close with 14-year-old Prince Alessandro at the bow holding a thick line to throw to us. But first the sail has to come in. Siegfried almost goes overboard trying to maneuver his body on the tiny bow. Bill needs to tie a bridal for the rope to attach. The Tavolara men are yelling at us in Italian to hurry up. They are well aware that we are running out of light. They want to help, but they are not going to risk their boat for this pleasure craft!
I am told to tie a bowline to the winch. Three times the knot slips open before I manage to do it properly. The haste makes my fingers clumsy. Finally we have all the ropes in place and the Italian skipper puts his engine in reverse. There is a jerk and an ugly scratching sound of fiberglass over rock then nothing. “Stop!” Alan yells to the Italians. All five of us now have to lean over heavily to port for the keel to come off the ground. The strong fishing boat starts pulling again. Now The Ark Angel tugs free almost effortlessly.
Hurray! There is cheering on both vessels. Siegfried throws the rope back to the Prince and Alan steers us into the darkness and safety of the deep water in the bay. Meanwhile the kids are observing everything from the beach, wondering where we are heading. In all the commotion we forgot to tell them that we are not going far!
Alan left his dinghy on the beach, so he decides to tie to the dock for the night and let us jump off there. It is 8 p.m. We are one hour late for our dinner reservation, but they kept our table: After all we are the only guests tonight. Another good reason for the royal family to help with the rescue, I guess.
No sight of the kids at the restaurant so I run back along the pitch black beach to look for them. They are right were we left them, guarding Ala. “Everything looks and feels much more scary in the darkness,” Leonie remarks poignantly, hugging me in relief.
Back at the restaurant we have a celebration of the Ark Angel’s happy rescue with a yummy meal of what’s left in the kitchen before the season ends. Alessandro’s mother, king Tonino’s daughter – the princess in other words – tells us, what the Queen can cook tonight: spaghetti vongole, spaghetti frutti di mare and spaghetti botargo. Plus: mangia tutti. Of course we order two heaping plates of mangia tutti, since we helped collect those tiny fish off the beach right here in front of the restaurant 10 days ago with Nanka and Hans.
Catching these fish is a community affair in the bay of Tavolara with lots of people helping or standing by yelling commands. A long narrow net is spanned across parts of the bay, which then gets pulled tight slowly, catching a whole swarm at once. Fishermen told us then that the fish get fried up and eaten as they are, head and tail and bones and all. And now the Princess is serving us two big platefuls with nothing but lemon to squeeze on. They are delicious.
Alan and Ute join us for a while at the table once they tied off their boat and retrieved their dinghy. They thank us many times and, of course, also the royal family, who was the one to really make it happen. When we say goodnight and goodbye we are all tired, but happy. Strangely enough I have a feeling that we will see those guys again before they fly back home.
And sure enough: A strong wind forecast has us go back to Porto Rotondo a few days earlier than planned and who comes cruising into the marina on day two of the gale? The Ark Angel of Freedom proudly flying the Canadian flag off its stern. We are glad to see her again and to have Alan and Ute over for coffee.
Alan gives us a nice, big and shiny Canadian flag including a wooden flag post as a present. It is an extra one, he says, too big for his little boat. It will look great on our Sharki and can replace the ripped flag we had to take down just a few days earlier.